'Mom and Dad'
If you’re going to make an exploitation movie, you should at least stick to your guns. That’s never a problem for Brian Taylor, one half of the two-headed directing monster behind the batshit insane ‘Crank’ franchise, who’s going solo these days with the equally wild TV series ‘Happy!‘ and now ‘Mom and Dad’. The movie feels like it could have played in the sleazy drive-ins and grindhouses of the 1970s in the best possible way.
This is cheap and nasty entertainment with just enough of a brain to drive the delightfully trashy machine. The flick ain’t art and certainly isn’t well-behaved enough to qualify as classy, but it’s fun, bizarrely hilarious, and queasily entertaining. Plus, it has one of the best unhinged Nicolas Cage performances in years. That doesn’t hurt.
The premise is simple enough to be sold in a trailer: One day, without much reason or explanation, all the parents in a seemingly sweet town are overwhelmed with a desire to murder their children. We follow a single family amidst the madness. Carly (Anne Winters) and Josh Ryan (Zackary Arthur) are the kids. She’s a cynical teen who doesn’t want to be seen in public with her parents anymore; he’s a sweet but wild kid who leaves his toys everywhere.
The parents are a little troubled in midlife crisis-y ways. Kendall (Selma Blair) is struggling to figure out what to do with her life now that her children don’t hang off her all day. She has a mild meltdown when she discovers that she’s no longer qualified for the career she left behind for her family. Brent (Nicolas Cage at his Cagiest) is an officebound dad who longs for the freedoms and irresponsibility of youth. Both go nuts, and the back half of the movie is essentially a surreal twist on the home invasion genre, where the parents are the invaders and the kids are the hopeless captives.
Obviously, there’s some subtext to this. It’s a bit of nightmare wish fulfillment for parents who sometimes look at the kids they love and wonder how much better their lives could be without them. It’s a thought that most parents will admit has crossed their mind at least once if they’re being honest. Writer/director Taylor has found a way to turn those momentary dark impulses into some absurd fun. Like the ‘Crank’ movies, tongue-in-cheek barely describes the tone of ‘Mom and Dad’. It’s all played for absurd dark comedy – every death, every scene of unease, and every glorious Cage-ian freak-out. Taylor still shoots in an almost reckless overabundance of cinematic style. All the camera edits are exaggerated in some way and no scene passes without an excessive amount of edits. Despite the slow(ish) build-up to the madness that ‘Mom and Dad’ contains, Taylor always goes out of his way to let the audience know this movie takes place at least a dozen steps away from reality. It has more in common with a ‘Looney Tunes’ cartoon than the typical horror flick.
Of course, the movie is being sold not just on the premise, but by the presence of Nic Cage and the promise that he’ll cut loose into his particularly delightful brand of overacting. At first, he just seems like a dad on the edge, but eventually he’s smashing up a pool table with a sledge hammer while singing “The Hokey Pokey.” It’s gloriously insane and hilarious in ways that only Cage can provide. He’s let off the chain and relishes the opportunity to see how far over-the-top he can take it.
Cage is more of a supporting figure of insanity here, though. Selma Blair covers most of the heavy lifting, giving off nuanced parental pain and fighting against her descent into madness in ways that ground the movie (well, as much as is possible with this sort of thing). They’re a hell of a pair together. Taylor couldn’t have found better suburban parents to go batty.
‘Mom and Dad’ is a hilarious, shocking, goofy and energetic bit of genre sleaze that doesn’t attempt to be much more. That’s fine. It works. Damn well, even. This is the exact movie that you want to watch when you polish off a beer and decide, “Fuck it, I’m going to watch that movie where Nic Cage goes crazy and tries to kill his kids.” There are complaints to be made, such as the inconsistent pacing (especially in the first half) and the fact that the movie establishes an interesting premise and then runs it into the ground rather than expanding on its possibilities (kind of like the first ‘Purge’ movie). This isn’t a movie for everyone, not by a long shot, but if you have a special place in your heart for bad taste humor, sleazy horror, and Nic Craziness, this bud’s for you.